EDF CEO calls for a “Marshall Plan” to revive nuclear

The hearing this Wednesday in the National Assembly of Jean-Bernard Lévy, the CEO of EDF, is eagerly awaited. First there is the visibility of the energy situation in France on the eve of winter which promises to be complicated due to the closure of several nuclear reactors. Then, listening to a big boss at the end of his career, theoretically more free to express himself than usual, even if the harsh criticism expressed recently by the Head of State to him is enough already to push him to play it low profile. Last week, in fact, Emmanuel Macron publicly pointed out the responsibility of Jean-Bernard Levy for the current failures of French nuclear power.

The priority obliges: the representatives immediately asked him about the electricity supply for households and businesses this winter. EDF’s CEO wants to be reassured. To listen to Jean-Bernard Lévy, the production of electricity must be proved sufficient. “The goal is to have almost the same electricity production as last winter, if the situation is good. Every Frenchman has the electricity he needs,” explained the one who is preparing to leave his functions that he has held since 2015 when the State decided to choose his successor.

The solution to the energy crisis is especially the proper functioning of the French nuclear fleet, which is currently burdened by the low availability of reactors. Jean-Bernard Lévy and the senior EDF executives at his side in the Palais Bourbon were reassuring. To date, 30 reactors are in operation (including 27 already connected to the electricity grid, 3 more that can be used at any time) and 25 that have been shut down. Among these 25 shutdown reactors, some forced shutdowns are scheduled for so-called maintenance work. “big fairing”.

The 25 shutdown reactors are due to be restarted in February

Problem: these ten-year inspections are longer since the tightening of regulations after the Fukushima accident in 2011. However, at the same time, EDF is facing a shortage of manpower “Due to many retirements and therefore loss of skills and experience” who does the maintenance “much longer” according to Cédric Lewandowski, executive director of the EDF group in charge of nuclear.

On top of this long-planned work, an unexpected difficulty was added: ten reactors were hit by a corrosion event that weakened their pipes. Five others are being investigated for similar suspicions of corrosion. However, Jean-Bernard Lévy boasts a new technique for repairing microcracks using waves, which avoids the direct intervention of pipes and long-term blockage of the site.

In the short term, Cédric Lewandowski confirmed that in the coming weeks 25 shutdown reactors will continue in service. According to the schedule set by EDF, five reactors will restart in September, five in October, seven in November, three in December, three in January and two in February. Nothing will happen “permanent disruptions (in the sense of “weather”) this winter”, insisted Jean-Bernard Lévy.

“These extraordinary circumstances require urgent action but also a long-term perspective”, he continued. The craftsman of the revival of French nuclear power recognized the need to take seriously the industrial difficulties experienced by EDF in ensuring fast and efficient maintenance of power plants.

The leader repeated the lack of skills not only in EDF but also – and above all – in its subcontractors, in the technical trades of welder, boilermaker or even pipefitter. And especially the political procrastination around nuclear power in the 2010s. “After Fukushima, many people talked about nuclear winter. We only got the perspective (of the future of the sector) recently”he regretted as he welcomed the turn in the end through the President of the Republic.

The need for a nuclear “Marshall Plan”

“The Belfort speech (made by Emmanuel Macron) in February 2022 clearly sets the framework for the development of nuclear power in the medium and long term. We will be able to continue to raise the sector, with the university of nuclear ones profession, the Excel plan at the end of 2019. We launched a welding school in Cotentin, “ recognized Jean-Bernard Lévy, tireless defender of nuclear power. This summer, the executive acted on the total renationalization of EDF to have a free hand in managing the nuclear program.

While he welcomed the nuclear revival project unveiled by Emmanuel Macron in February, after criticizing the face of the Elysée who has long demanded the downfall of the nuclear regime, Jean-Bernard Lévy is now urging the government and the powers to continue more than simple. “debates”. In other words, the six second generation EPR promised by the President of the Republic at the end of his first term will be concretely launched.

“We need the texts, the authorizations to launch the construction sites. We need a “Marshall plan” to launch the construction of the EPR again. The term for me makes sense with a way » up to the ambition of the Elysée, asked the CEO of EDF in his last speech to the parliamentarians. A way to encourage them to pass laws promoting the construction of new reactors throughout the territory.

Yesterday Tuesday, facing this same Economic Affairs Committee of the Assembly, the Minister of Industry Agnès Pannier-Runacher specifically mentioned a bill “starting from 2023 it is likely (…) that introduce provisions to save time in the process of launching construction sites” nuclear.